One More Pointless Hybrid

At one time, slides were not cool until they were or when they became the Adilette. Bum bags (or fanny packs), by their very name had the same appeal as the bumster until the current summer season, hot days of off-beat protuberances.

Yet, cool-dom has a prominent place for these fashion pariahs. And the impossibly hip don’t stay with the hipsters; they gravitate towards the rest. In no time, two sartorially-challenged items worn on two different parts of the body come together as oneanother hip whole. If they can bring together two perfectly prosaic items such as a T-shirt and a shirt. and create something ‘new’, why not also with a slide and a bum bag?

Nike, according to Hypebeast, has just announced that it would soon be releasing the ‘Fanny Pack’ slides, off-shoot of their popular Benassi JDI. These come on the heels of other pregnant slide uppers, such as Fenty’s fur-enfolded, as well as be-ribboned slides. A fanny pack atop loosely clenched toes is presumably more utilitarian than the other decorated predecessors. And we assume there are enough consumers who need to keep spare change, MRT card, and maybe even lipstick above the metatarsus.

Question is, do you bend down to retrieve what you need or do you lift your foot to where your hands can reach them pouch?

Photo: Nike

The Superfluous Extra

What’s that hanging from your neck, a dead stingray?

By Ray Zhang

So, another Balenciaga item has outraged the online community: the T-shirt with a bibbed-on shirt. How thrilled Balenciaga’s social media managers must be. I mean, why bother to post when you don’t gun for a reaction, preferably one that borders on extremely strong disapproval. Censure has its advantages. It is what those who think they’re truly fashionable thrive on since wearing something the rest frown upon is deemed uncommon stylishness, or the stuff of fashion-week oomph. Besides, fashion for many—adopters or observers—isn’t quite fashion unless it is something outlandish, something you and I will point at and giggle at and scoff at, but won’t have on our backs.

I don’t know about you, but I feel we’re too easily provoked by these marketing ploys, these haha-I-got-yous. Balenciaga isn’t a greenhorn in the space of the #OOTD; they don’t post inane influencer photos to illicit “you’re so cute” gushiness. They want to provoke; they want to rouse vehement reactions. And you’ve given it to them. In turn, public reaction, even negative—better still, negative, becomes reason-to-buy for those who think nothing of scoring an over a thousand (SG) dollars sweatshirt so that people won’t miss the Balenciaga logo emblazoned in the back like a reclining Buddha.

Having said that, I do feel there’s something here that deserves more than casual observation or Twitter bitchery. The shirt on a T-shirt idea is not terribly new. Fans of Comme des Garçons will remember that the Japanese label has had two-in-ones (and hint of), as well as two-as-one in their collections before. Why, even our own Depression did not resist the temptation to mount one garment on another and sold them as single items.

Of course, in the case of Balenciaga, designer Demna Gvasalia has to have a point of differentiation. He made both of the two pieces—T-shirt and the connected-at-the-neck-shirt—wearable. Unlike Siamese twins, these are meant to be permanently conjoined. For the wearer, this is literally two-as-one (price wise, it is, naturally, two-for-two!): you can wear the tee and let the shirt hang out meaninglessly in the front. Or, wear the shirt and let the tee dangle at the back, like a child’s limp superhero cape. The truly imaginative will, of course, be able to think of the extra clothing’s usefulness: shirt in front can be handy when eating chilli crab; tee at the back perfect for those unfortunate times when the back of kopi tiam chairs are inexplicably dirty.

I am all for the two-in-one (or the idea of a two-in-one, as in a twofer), but I don’t see the creativity in the Balenciaga twinning except the needless contrariness. Nobody needs an extra piece of clothing hanging in the front or at the back. But, I suppose one impotent and ordinary shirt hanging on a T-shirt is less offensive than any of those downright rude messages slapped on tees that people now wear with such head-up pride.

Balenciaga T-Shirt Shirt, SGD1,800 is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Balenciaga/Instagram

The Difference Between Simple And Plain Is A Fine Line

The wedding dress 1

So, the wedding of the year is over. The media gush has ebbed. The attention has now shifted to Prince Harry’s cousin, the Instagram-hot Arthur Chatto, 19-year-old nephew of Queen Elizabeth. But people’s fascination with the ex-commoner/actress-now-duchess has not ceased; they note enthusiastically how she’s presently receiving a “six-month crash course on how to be royal”. Shouldn’t that have come earlier so that her choice of wedding dress could have been more “royal” too?

Contrary to popular speculation, she opted for simple—a monolith of white. As it turned out, it may not be the most memorable British royal wedding dress, but it would be remembered, if only because one Meghan Markle wore it. In fact, to us who saw the dress on television and in countless media outlets, it was a little anti-climatic, more so when the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen gown from seven years ago is still fresh in our mind. Still, the press raved about it: with many headlines announcing how Ms Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex, “stuns” with the Givenchy dress.

Enthusiastic social-media speak aside; the raves mostly pitched the dress as a symbol of modernity, a sign that Ms Markle will do things her way since its very simplicity is not quite the embodiment of royal bridal-dress tradition. And that gown, they opined, was very much in keeping with the wearer’s “elegant” style although, we noted, Ms Markle’s first wedding dress (worn when she married Trevor Engleson six months after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s grand ceremony) was not exactly the byword of elegance, but in America, home of the prom dress, there is a different sense of what is elegant. Los Angeles glam transplanted to a Jamaican beach, perhaps?

What Ms Markle wore to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle last month was without doubt an upgrade of that dress she donned to the seaside of Ocho Rios in 2011. People do progress after a period of close to a decade, alongside taste, in dress and mate. Still, the similarities can’t be ignored. Ms Markle clearly has a thing for exposed shoulders: both dresses reveal the top of her trunk and her neck. For her second nuptials, she sported a bateau neckline that underscored her shoulders and face. The shoulder baring was, of course, in keeping with what continues to trend on IG: cold-shoulder and off-shoulder tops. Both wedding dresses were also not form-fitting: the former (designer unknown) held at the waist with a bejeweled belt recalled Chelsea Clinton’s Vera Wang gown worn a year earlier, while the latest seen across the Atlantic, waisted more naturally, wasn’t cinched by a belt.

The wedding dress 2

Some of her fans—journalists included—praise the Givenchy dress, designed by Englishwoman Claire Waight Keller, for not being snug at the bodice. It is rather odd for a couture gown to escape an immaculate fit. A woman designing for a woman knows women needs to breathe? We certainly don’t mean tight, but it couldn’t be said that this dress was perfectly contoured to Ms Markle’s upper body. With each camera close-up, the undulations beside the bust and beneath repeatedly caught the eye. Even the sleeves seemed missing a neat fit: in many of the photographs seen online, a dimple punctuated exactly at the armpit, on both sides. It is, to say the least, unattractive. Versace-clad ‘angel’ Katy Perry flew towards the truth when she recommended, “one more fitting”.

Joining the fray was British-based New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead, who claimed that Ms Markle’s dress looked “identical” to the one the former had designed, named Helene. Allegedly looking alike aside, Ms Wickstead echoed the other half of the online chorus that believed the dress suffered from a good fit. “If you choose a simple design, the fit should be perfect,” she told the press unswervingly. “Her wedding dress was quite loose.” Gasp, went the collective response: loose, as we know, is not quite synonymous with wedding dresses, unless the poor bride has to conceal/obscure a baby bump.

Together with lack of a good fit, another similarity to what was worn on the beach that day in Ocho Rios is how off-the-peg the dress looked. It is understandable that Ms Markle desired to introduce modernity to a nuptial staged in a 14th century chapel, but simple that can be confused with plain is perhaps quite contrary to the ceremonial aspect expected of such highly anticipated grandeur. It could have been any woman’s bridal gown; it could have been cousin Chin Choo’s wedding at the Carlton Hotel.

We would be misguided to think that this is not Meghan Markle’s princess-bride moment. She may have brought “change” to the house of Windsor, but a royal wedding isn’t quite the stage for designer dull. She was walking down the aisle of a high-medieval gothic royal peculiar, not a minimal, modernist construction such as Portugal’s Capela de Santa Ana. This was no time to do a Bella Swan wedding. Even teenage-angst–afflicted Amelia ‘Mia’ Thermopolis of the fictional Genovia succumbed to regal finery— incidentally also a gown with a similar bateau neckline.

Could it be that Ms Markle and Ms Waight Keller thought the ultra-long veil (longer than the train of the dress) will make up for the lack of dramatic impact? Choose a modern dress; keep the veil traditional, never mind the embroidery that edged it was so subtle that its thematic significance (flowers of the Commonwealth countries) had to be explained by the media. A bridal veil may no longer symbolize what it did in the 17th Century (or even earlier), but today, it still does—even only superficially—mean that when the veil is lifted, the groom can go into matrimonial and procreative bond with his spouse. Is this obligatory for a second-time bride or is this even more relevant post-#metoo?

Perhaps we did not quite manage our expectations. But what had we expected? Should we have expected? Ms Markle may have chosen Givenchy, but she is no Audrey Hepburn. She may be the second American divorcée to marry into the British royal family, but she is no Wallis Simpson. The Duchess of Sussex (a rural county in the south east of England, where one noted attraction is the beach-side town of Brighton) may be of humble lineage, but she is no Kate Middleton, whose poise and posture have endeared herself to the public.

There’s something to be said about the carriage and bearing of Ms Markle, especially when she stands next to Prince Harry. Some royal watchers think her body language is consistent with her profession as an actor: it’s a performance. The way she cocks her head like an aspara and the way she looks at her prince like a Disney character: they look so feigned that there is a sense that she’s masking guile and secrets. The simplicity of the wedding dress perhaps similarly deflects the complexity of the person wearing it. Just don’t call it the Meghan Markle effect.

Photos: Getty Images. Illustration: Givenchy

Basket Case

By Mao Shan Wang

The era of the It bag may be over, but our affair with the hit bag isn’t quite finished. I don’t suppose it would ever be. Whether it’s a Supreme bumbag or a Dior Diorama, many women need a security/statement bag. Their clothes can be from The Editor’s Market, but their bags won’t be from any place that’s the synonym of pasar.

But sometimes it’s all rather tiresome, even conformist, to just go with what streetwear or luxury brands put out there. That’s why when something unusual comes along, I allow myself to be enamoured. Such as this basket backpack I saw recently at Muji.

To be sure, this is quite the opposite of anything you’d see on bag aficionado Alvin Cher’s Bagaholicboy. It is definitely bears no semblance to anything seen on Jamie Chua’s arm (I doubt she carries anything on her back!), too. In fact, this could pass off as a fancy, fruit collector’s basket employed during harvest time, a period of the year surely alien to us on this island nation.

But this is no ordinary farmland receptacle. This is a select, artisanal item that’s one of a few of this season’s Found Muji highlighting crafts of North America. As part of the Box 3 Series that looks at various boxes used for transporting goods across distances, Muji has included a handsome, light, and sturdy pack basket made of blond maple wood strips, with black cotton twill tapes for straps. If you are into discreet blink, the copper rivets as fastening are a detail to note and appreciate.

What’s appealing to me, apart from its depth and capaciousness, is the potential visual contrast of this rural-looking basket/bag in an urban environment. It is perhaps the same reason why a Shaker chair works beautifully in a Tadao Ando house.

Muji maple wood basket, SGD150, available at Muji Plaza Singapura. Photo: Muji

Baits And Bites Of A Popular Deception

The spat last month between an Instagrammer who is identified as a “public figure” and a fledgling jewellery brand sadly reflects the deceitfulness and bottom-heading standards of the quickly expanding local KOL community


A sentiment that is shared by many influencers. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Instagram, the bluff! For all its appeal and draw, and constant role as marketing tool to selves and brands, IG is ultimately a trickster—the great deceiver of the social-media age. Rarely do you get to see the truths behind the posts. Unless you were present during those times the photographs were shot, or when the selfies were snapped, or if you knew the subject personally. Otherwise it’s hard to wipe off the rosy patina.

Most IG posts suppose the subject to be presenting his/her true self. In these days, true, as you know, is subjective and variable, especially when ‘fake’ is tagged to all manner of news. Instagram could possibly be the mother of much of the faking, more so when the app was equipped with truth-blurring filters. These, the Instagrammer tends not to skip—they remove or down-play the less attractive aspects of their posts by using digital lenses with such fancy names as Clarendon and Mayfair. The photos are dramatically enhanced.

Or, elevated. We want so many things in our life to go the next level, why not our photos. Through filters—and and other adjustable settings—Instagrammers-as-influencers hook for positive impressions the way socialites fish for compliments at a charity gala by wearing outlandish clothes. Influencers or key opinion leaders (KOLs), as many preferred to be called (or, media shorthand to distinguish the starlets and stars), including what we’re told is now trending, “the influential influencer”, bait and we bite.

EJHLike all the way. Photo: xelainejasmine/Instagram. Collage: Just So

Sure, we know the real world is not so ideally filtered, not so perfectly cropped, and definitely not so obsessively photographed, yet the reality hasn’t stopped followers of IG accounts to believe the beauties, and also the beasts, that they follow, even buying into their perfect lives or buying what they hawk, both good and bad.

Yet, the positive front does not always hold up. When charges of improper conduct surface, the liable’s anterior peels away, unmasking his/her true self, especially when in hasty self-defence or, worse, with total indifference. The recent rather public trouble of influencer Elaine Heng (aka Elaine Jasmine) with jewellery label By Invitation Only (BIO) is a case in point. It is understandable why many stood with BIO’s owner Trixie Khong when she prefaced her telling of what happened on Facebook with, “The sad truth about why influencers get a bad reputation.”

We’ll try to keep it short, just in case you have just returned from the International Space Station. By Invite Only had identified Elaine Heng, also a part-time actress/Toggle starlet, as an influencer who could influence the 83.7K influenced on her IG account. A deal, as Donald Trump would have called it, was struck. BIO’s Ms Khong arranged for some jewellery to be sent to Ms Heng, as well as for payment for the agreed service to be made. All seemed business as usual until the influencer’s influence went, as Ms Khong described it, MIA. The business owner reached out to the blog-for-a-living Instagrammer, but was not successful. A digital cat and mouse chase ensued.

EH on IGPhotos: xelainejasmine/Instagram. Collage: Just So

According to Ms Heng—who not only refuted Ms Khong’s FB post on FB, but also posted a shockingly sloppy, “actually”-filled video on Instagram Live to negate the former’s charges—when she received the said jewellery, she found that “the products were very poor quality (sic)”. At this point, many members of the jewellery design community were quite taken aback by Ms Heng’s daring claim: it was hard to believe that Ms Khong, herself an ardent Instagrammer—KOL-style, would send inferior merchandise to an influencer that she had considered influential. By Invite Only was, after all, among the winners of the Top 3 Most Popular Brand at last year’s Singapore Fashion Award. It would not have been living up to the accolade and too soon after the honour to go rogue if they had indeed shipped products of questionable make.

The recipient of “poor quality” jewellery went on: “Of course I didn’t want to promote such a product, right?” In case her followers doubted her honour and her dependability, she explained: “Because you all know I value the trust that you guys have for (sic) me and my reviews, so why would I promote something that I don’t like, something that is of such a bad quality?” Ms Heng, who pronounced post as pose (“I’ll pose only when I like the product”, in which case she isn’t wrong) and stressed that she “is not those (sic) kind of bloggers that just want everything to be sponsored just because you pay me over hundred dollars”, was clearly in defence mode even when it escaped her that a sponsorship involving products is possibly not accompanied by payment. She was, as many understood it, not sponsored; she was paid to do a job.

She continued to explain why she did not refund the payment as a consequence of no posts, and was emphatic that she was not avoiding the client’s justifiable pursuit of her. “I was rushing for my Australia trip—because you guys know that before my Bali trip, right, I flew to Australia, and things were very busy that period. So, it’s my fault that I didn’t manage to transfer her (sic) the money before I flew overseas.”

Trixie Khong at SFA 2017By Invite Only’s Trixie Khong holding the award for Top 3 Most Popular Brands at the Singapore Fashion Award 2017. Photo Zhao Xiangji

What followed was a series of why-I-didn’t and why-I-couldn’t: she did not have her ibanking token with her, she was overseas and was unable to transfer the money, she returned but “forgot to pay”, flew off to Bali (reminding her viewers that they knew she “went to Komodo Island”), WiFi was not available on the boat to her “for three days” (when she had “disappeared”), and more because-I-forgots, intermittently swaying the audience with the admission that it was her fault (“I’m not going to say it’s completely her fault”). And, in a moment of unpersuasive frailty, conceded that she is human—“we all make mistakes”.

What Ms Heng offered, if seen in most transactional arrangements, would be mere excuses (upon excuses), and could be considered as avoiding the problem of her own making. It is, of course, possible that she was procrastinating, in view of the fact that she was to be travelling (for what purpose, she did not state, but one could assume to show via Instagram that she has a blessed life). She said, towards the end of the video, that it was a “simple matter” and that she “didn’t expect her to take it so seriously and blow it up.”

Was it really so simple? And was By Invite Only’s Trixie Khong blowing it up? Should she not have taken the episode seriously? Most people saw this as a case of not honouring one’s commitment that deserves censure, and members of the media who reported on the dispute did not appear to be sympathetic towards the defiant Instagrammer. Some of her supporters thought that she was being bullied, with one gung-ho individual, in a display of maiden-to-the-rescue machismo, asking, “What brand? Tell me. I will make them regret.” The xiao yuan zhi hua (校园之花, campus beauty) card always comes in handy. We were inclined to see Elaine Heng’s behaviour as lacking professional discipline, but when we saw that 11-minute-40-second video she posted on Instagram Live, we could not ignore the juvenile outpouring too.

Screen grab Elaine Heng on Instagram LiveScreen grab of Elaine Heng appearing on Instagram Live to explain away. Photo: Elaine Heng/Instagram

And it quickly dawned on us that that was exactly where you can see her appeal and draw. Ms Heng’s behaviour is representative of the girls (and boys) of her generation, and this generation of social media followers understands that her video feed is basically a platform on which she is talking to her fans directly, as if chatting with her BFFs in a kopi tiam. This is how many of them speak and conduct themselves, mostly inured to niceness, its allure and advantages. This is what you hear in the MRT train when a petulant schoolgirl complains about another petulant schoolgirl. This is totally unscripted, as girl talk tends to be; this is not quite serious, flippant even; this is not a show of remorse; this is no apology and, if so, not directed at the person angered by her.

Her spontaneity is her stroke of genius. Her by-the-way approach has an immediate intimacy and her while-I-eat posturing has a non-threatening casualness that people even find cute. She interrupted the video session by talking to her sister (“can you don’t [sic] watch my IG story in front of me like that?”, “I eating [sic] half-way”) and her maid, and then dismissed them (“go, go, go!”); she rocked back and forth as she tried to read the real-time comments appearing on her side of the screen; and—charming to her fans, unbecoming to her haters—she slurped noodles as she banters (“wait ah, I eat first”, “wah, it’s very spicy, leh!”), with the handle of the soup spoon taking up a quarter of the screen; and she concluded her session because “my noodles is getting fat”.

This girl is entertaining!

You would not have known that just by looking at her Instagram photos. By those photos alone, you’d never guess she’s this amusing, this loquacious, and this hungry! Nor, that fashionable, to the point she could sell clothes, let alone earrings. Those posts left you with no clue that while she was having a whale of a time in Komodo Island, a business owner was hunting her down for a commitment she allegedly did not keep. Neither will you think she expects people to “chase” her for the money owed to them. You would not be able to imagine that while she was eager to monitise her follower base, she was unable to see the exigency of returning what she had to pay back. Or, that she would have the gumption to exhort that “all brands should know this: when you engage an influencer, you don’t expect them to write an amazing post about your product unless you are sure that your product is something that they like!”

18-05-19-10-36-05-715_deco.jpgWherever you turn to, there’s a good chance someone is looking at Instagram. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Perhaps, what Ms Heng, once identified as a “hot bod” in The Straits Times, did not foresee was BIO’s Trixie Khong stealing her spotlight. She did not expect Ms Khong to use the very same platforms to out her (when the dispute went online, she repeatedly called it “childish”). She thought she could have it her way until she came face to Facebook with what was untenable: avoid the situation at hand. She thought the mess could be cleaned up privately via one-to-one WhatsApp messages; she did not realise that she had waited too long. She thought replying with LOLs could defuse any situation, but, since texting acronyms are no cure-all and may be seen as a digital slap-in-the-face, they only exacerbated the situation. Ms Heng has a very specific so-cute-it’s-sexy appeal that makes army boys’ knees go weak. Likely, she thought her chio-ness could continue to front her brand (“You are so pretty” is a common textual reaction to her posts) only to clash with those who believe rectitude counts more.

Regrettably, in the world of #mefirst social media, prettiness can take the place of propriety, cuteness can forgo decorum, ignorance can supplant knowledge. The influencer-sphere is peopled with face/body-worthy pococurantes, cavaliers, and would-be fashion designers. On top of the unceasing, this-is-my-life-but-you’ll-never-really-know appeal, Instagram encourages influencers to comport with vainglory and condense their lives into neat stamps of perfection. The grid of photos is a story board of endless fun and enjoyment. That’s the one thing about many KOLs, and quite a cliché too: they want to give you the impression that they attend the best parties, the most gainful product launches; that they rock in the coolest dress and shine in the most stunning jewellery; that they eat in the hippest hipster cafes, cavort in the most photogenic locales, and are always on the move—overseas!

When more of the veneer cracks or wears off, will we see further decay inside?

Some of those fretful of social media’s compelling force to affect behaviour and action miss pre-digital innocence, if it existed. The past does not always inform the future. And the present is so reliably unpredictable and changeable that what comes next is anybody’s guess. Yet, the comeliest faces are preserved in the cloud as reminder that the visual selves of these influencers have a triumvirate presence: somewhere out there, in the bloggers’ reality, and in our very own. If what the digital world has to offer up till now, including the attendant apps, is habit-forming, would the bad behaviour we see online with numbing regularity become a habit for many too?